Fox // 2008 // 88 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Paul Pritchard (Retired) // June 18th, 2008
"These aren't tentacles, they're gentacles!"
Futurama continues its revival with the release of the second of four direct-to-DVD movies.
Having torn a hole in the universe, thanks to their time-traveling adventures during Futurama: Bender's Big Score, the crew of the Planet Express returns in Futurama: The Beast With A Billion Backs.
Convincing President Nixon that he, and not his rival Professor Wornstrom, should head a mission to investigate the mysterious tear in space, Professor Farnsworth, accompanied by Fry, Leela, Doctor Zoidberg, Amy, and Bender blast off towards the anomaly. It soon emerges that the tear is actually the gateway to another dimension, one inhabited by a creature named Yivo, who enters our universe through the hole and begins taking control of everyone with his giant tentacles. Within a short space of time, Yivo has established a new religion, with Fry acting as his Pope. But with total world domination in his sights, Yivo faces resistance when a handful of humans (amongst them Leela, Zapp Brannigan, and Amy) rise up to fight the alien menace.
While not being the only show to suffer the indignity of being unjustly cancelled, Futurama's resurrection has certainly been one of the more interesting returns. Rather than adopt Family Guy's approach, and carry on as before, like nothing had happened, the creators of Futurama have instead taken a leaf from Firefly's book and opted to take a different route, one that, for the most part, appears to be paying off handsomely.
Rather than going back to the episodic structure that had served them so well before, the creators of Futurama released a series of four feature-length movies, chronicling the ongoing exploits of the crew of the Planet Express. This move not only allows the writers to expand their vision somewhat, it also sees more thought put into story arcs that now crossover from one movie to the next. The result is a sense of progress; actions now have ramifications as Futurama moves away from the incident-of-the-week storylines that had proved so successful in it previous incarnation. It's a brave creative decision, and one that, perhaps, should have been considered for Matt Groening's other animated series a while ago...
Picking up shortly after the events of Bender's Big Score, Beast gets off to a flying start, with jokes hitting hard and fast, just like Zapp Brannigan's lovemaking. While the jokes remain as strong as ever, there's a noticeable shift towards a more adult-orientated brand of humor. Indeed, the central premise of the film, which sees the creature Yivo "spreading his love" with the inhabitants of Earth, is ripe with great visual gags and double-entendres. While it stays far more family-friendly than Family Guy, Beast is not above making a number of genital-related jokes and delivering lines about "banging out a quick cheap one." It's not a major shift in tone; Futurama has often dabbled with risqué humor from time to time, but the writers, now free from the constraints placed upon them when writing for TV, find themselves able to produce edgier material, resulting in classic scenes that show Zapp Brannigan going to unspeakable lows to get one particular cast member into the sack. But then, like its predecessor, Beast is aimed squarely at fans of Futurama and as such, is simply giving them more of what they loved about the show. Speaking of giving fans more of what they want, Beast is chock full of Zapp Brannigan.
Beast With A Billion Backs crams in plenty of plot and subplot. A little more even experience than Bender's Big Score, Beast finds the writing team in a far more assured frame of mind, and a step closer to the high standards set by the series. From interdimensional loving and Fry becoming Pope to Bender's discovery of a secretive robot club bent on destroying mankind, the film has plenty of ground to cover and offers some interesting developments in the Futurama universe.
The disc's transfer is impressive, with vibrant colors and good detail. However, as with other Fox screeners, the picture quality is hampered somewhat and never quite on par with the final product with noticeable artifacting. The 5.1 soundtrack is crisp and clean; never cluttered, it allows for some smart, though often subtle, effects work to be picked up.
Beast provides an excellent batch of supplemental material. As with previous Futurama releases, the commentary provided here is as entertaining and informative as you could hope for. Along with the now standard deleted scenes, and animatics, the disc also features "Futurama: The Lost Adventure," perhaps the pick of the special features. Pieced together using cut-scenes from the X-Box Futurama videogame, the result is a 30-minute episode that, while never reaching the heights of the show itself, still merits a viewing and contains the show's trademark humor. Again, the episode's commentary proves to be a winner, with an amusing revelation regarding the picture quality of the episode.
Beast With A Billion Backs opens strong and keeps going...right up to the final act, that is.
The big fear with any release like this, as seen in The Simpsons Movie, is that the gags will be stretched a little too thin as a show birthed in a half-hour format finds its length tripled. While Beast certainly has a higher laugh count than The Simpsons Movie, all the best stuff is contained within the first hour. The whole production just seems to run out of steam, and interest begins to wane.
There's also an annoying deus ex machina that undoes an otherwise brave decision on behalf of the writers. While it doesn't really take away from the enjoyment of the movie, it does reek of a copout.
Futurama: The Beast With A Billion Backs continues Futurama's triumphant return. For fans of the series this is essential, earning its place alongside the glorious season box sets. The shows magic is here in spades with plenty of creativity on display, and who can resist the allure of an extra large helping of Zapp Brannigan?
Not guilty -- and may Bender's robot army of the damned besiege anyone who says otherwise.
Review content copyright © 2008 Paul Pritchard; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* 1.78:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
Running Time: 88 Minutes
Release Year: 2008
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Commentary by Matt Groening, David X. Cohen, Billy West, John Dimaggio, Maurice Lamarche, Michael Rowe, Claudia Katz, Peter Avanzio, and Lee Supercinski
* Futurama: The Lost Episode
* Storyboard Anamatics
* Deleted Scenes
* David Cross Featurette
* 3D Models with Animator Discussion
* A Brief History of Deathball
* Bender's Game Preview